Orientation (again) and Caye Caulker
27.08.2012 - 02.09.2012
The end of orientation was an adventerous time. Our group spent much time taking trips and continuing to become more and more of what can be called an “intentional community”. This community is designed to bring once-strangers into a close bonded group of individuals who strive to learn what it means to live as Christ-centered persons on the earth. One thing should be mentioned about the group I’ll be studying with. Because this program is centered around “creation care”, many of my classmates and now housemates are environment studies/science majors at their respective schools. There are a few of us non-environmental majors, but most of us have a heart or at least an interest in learning more about the world and ourselves as we try to live well here on this planet. That being said, it will be an interesting semester to observe others, and especially myself (a creative writing/theology student) in an environment which is intentionally focused on, well... the environment.
Now for the interesting stuff. My last post was last Sunday, which I must admit to being a pretty weak post (my sincerest apologies for that). I was hastily attempting to get at least something down on the fly when Connie and I happened to find ourselves at a restaurant with an internet connection. The next day (Monday 8/27), the whole group spent several hours digging two new beds in our campus garden, which already includes banana, guava, lime, orange, pineapple trees as well as squash, watermelon, pumpkin, potato, and a thousand other crazy tropical plants that I can’t recall. Blisters were inevitable, but were signs of a job done well.
Wednesday and Thursday marked trips to the Belize Botanic Gardens and the Belize Zoo respectively. The Botanic Gardens was an incredible 40 or so acres of story after story. Acres of stories? Yes it’s true, but only because our guide, Willy (a true Mayan), gave us a story for every plant he stopped to show us. He told us about a time when a man he knew had become afflicted with swelling and intense pain from handling the berries of the Poisonwood tree. Willy boiled the bark from another tree and used the sappy water to cure the symptoms. Essentially every plant we stopped to smell, taste, touch, or avoid for one reason or another could be used to treat any number of common or uncommon ailments. And after leading the group to a traditional Mayan hut, he proceeded to tell us about his mothers attempts to break him of the habit of bedwetting when he and his dozen or so siblings lived in a similar hut about the size of my living room. Needless to say, it was an educational and entertaining experience.
Reporting now about the Belize Zoo would be interesting, but I will save it for later, because I might get to do my two week internship there if I so choose. It’s either the Zoo or a farm (Central Farm to be exact). The Zoo is much shadier than any farm will be, and I’ve already felt the wrath of the tropical sun. Time will tell if I can get used to the sun and heat enough to be willing to work 80 hours outside in it.
Thursday was the start of our first travel opportunity. After the Zoo in the morning, all 17 of us students set out for Caye Caulker (caye is pronounced “key”). We didn’t have to travel as one group, but those of us who weren’t too particular about our first travel adventure (or just too lazy to plan something ourselves) let the enthusiastic types plan our first collective toe in the water of unsuperivzed Belizean adventure. Caye Caulker is a small Caribbean island off the northeastern coast of Belize. For all intents and purposes, it is a tropical island paradise. It is smaller than its neigbor to the north, the Ambergris Caye, which is reportedly more developed, but more expensive to visit and much less laid back. Who knows how an island can be laid back, but maybe I ask too many questions? Oh, well. Anyway, Connie and I were accompanied by two others at a hostel called Tropical Oasis where the girls pitched a tent and I set up my hammock, which has a mosquito net and rainfly attached and acts as my tent. Caye Caulker is certainly a tourist destination, and there are many touristy things to do, but most of what our smaller section of the 17 did was eat and relax seaside. On Friday, we did take kayaks out on the western side of the island where the water is smoother, and did a few minutes of exploration of the sea life with a snorkel and mask.
The highlight of the weekend and of the semester so far started with an unconventional meal. Constance had been looking to try snapper since we got on the island, and on Saturday I saw a man on the side of the road by the beach with just a grill and a chalkboard advertising his menu. Snapper was included on the menu, so we decided to stop since this guy’s food was likley to be the cheapest around. Connie and I ordered a snapper to split and the man (who’s name we never did learn) greeted us as if we were his first customers ever. Surely his business wasn’t booming, but he had clearly been around for a while. He told us that he had caught his fish personally and was going to treat us with his best recipe, which consisted of veggie stuffed snapper with garlic and his own homemade barbeque sauce accompanied by beans, cole slaw and tortilla. A few friends who knew where Connie and I were planning to eat joined us and ordered snapper as well. The influx of business made our grill man even more excited, and he began telling us his culinary secrets. Weirdly, he was overly cautious to ask us several times if we were allergic to many of his ingredients. He mentioned that a man he served several weeks ago puffed up because of the garlic in the fish… I digress. We were a bit worried that the reason this guy had very little apparent business at the time was due to incompetance or his overbearance about allergies. However, it the food turned out to be delightful, exquisite, scrumptious, and all the rest. Maybe it was the cool breeze or the moon out over the light blue water in the evening, but I will say with confidence that I had one of the best meals of my life on Saturday.
But wait! There’s more! Through conversation, we learned that our chef for the night was helping to coach a young adult basketball team on the island and that they were having a game later that night. He urged us to come support his boys. He told us that he was trying to keep them out of trouble by training them on the court. After dessert, a few of us did decide to go check out the game, which turned out to be the place to be on Caye Caulker that night. The small blacktop court with bleacher seats for only about two hundred spectators was packed. The D.J. was bumping too, blasting mostly reggae/rap mixed with a few things I recognized from pop radio in the U.S. Our grill man found us and sat through the first game while we waited for his boys to play in game number two. His boys turned out to be quite the ball players and not boys at all. There were some teanagers but many of them were older than me by more than a few years. It must have been a young adult amateur league. We were treated by our new friend to a drink that was called something like seaweed or seawheat. We couldn’t make it out through his thick caribbean accent. It reminded me of eggnog, but was apparantly comprised of milk, egg, seaweed, ginger, nutmeg, and a few things I can’t pronounce and won’t try to spell. “Our boys” won their game handily with our new friend standing by, proud of his work. He was truly a good man, invested in his community and working hard to support his family on an island that is not forgiving to those who have little to offer, especially to us tourists who drive much of the economy. However, our man had much to offer—fish, drink, basketball, five star service, and a welcoming heart. It was a night I will not soon forget.
Today was the beginning of class! It may mean that our lives become less adventurous in a way, but it also means that we are less tourists than we appear to be. Although I will always look like a tourist to the majority of the locals here, I will not always be one at heart.